I know many of our family and friends are curious as to why, after calling this baby Joshua for my whole pregnancy, we named him Judah after he was born. Here is the journey God took me on and why his name was changed.
The hills and the valleys - A lesson in faith through the storm
Isaiah 49:15 NLT
"“Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!"
When I married my husband and took on his last name, which means “hills and valleys” I didn’t fully realize about the hills and valleys in the life I was going to live. This lesson started long before I realized what I was learning so I wont start at the beginning I’ll start where I first realized God was doing a work in my life. It was August 25th 2012. I was pregnant with our 3rd child and quite excited about it. After two normal and healthy pregnancies I assumed this one would go exactly like the others, after all I was young and healthy, why wouldn’t it go well?
I woke up took a shower and noticed two drops of blood. It was just two drops, no cramping or any other worrisome signs. I called the doc just to make sure, they agreed it was no big deal. They assured me that on 2nd and 3rd pregnancies a little ‘spotting’ is normal but went ahead and moved my appointment up to Monday just to make sure. We spent the day with family taking it easy. The next morning we woke up and it was more than just two drops. Not a huge amount, but more than I expected. I opted to stay at home from church and lay in bed taking it easy until my appointment the next morning.
By the time I woke up Monday morning I was sure that something was wrong. I still by no means was bleeding alot, but more than I had with the others in my first trimester. When the doctor told me there was no heart beat I was somewhat prepared mentally. I took a deep breath and told myself “I have a young healthy body and my body is doing what it was designed to do. It must not have been a healthy baby and my body rejected it. With two other kids and no family living near by its for the best.”
I repeated that to myself about 50 times that day and I didn’t cry, not one single tear. The next day however was a different story. I didn’t care if the baby was downs or austitic I knew I would have loved it and held it and cuddled it just as I had the other two healthy children. I also had no way of verifying that anything was wrong with the baby and I watched my other two healthy children play and I began to believe it was my fault. Something was wrong with my body. Two healthy children had come out of me so surely it was my body’s fault that I had lost this 3rd nameless child. I cried alone.
Now at the same time I was pregnant I had several other very dear friends who were pregnant all of us due within a few weeks of each other. Two of which had tried for a very long time to get pregnant. I latched on to their pregnancies and prayed daily for their safety and health. I smiled as I planned what advice I’d pass on and the quilts I would make their babies.
Two weeks after my own miscarriage one of my friends announced that she too had lost her baby. It was like a punch in the belly I could hardly breath. She had tried for years to get pregnant and unlike me didn’t have any other children. My only comfort was that I at least had two healthy kids a girl and a boy already. For her there was no such comfort. I was sad and angry and I cried some more, alone.
My first mistake I suppose was in “silver lining” my own loss. I didn’t fully grieve the child I had lost because I had two others I needed to carry on for. Now this wasn’t entirely my fault as I had many people around me telling me the same thing “at least you already have kids and one of each gender at that.” The fact of the matter is no matter how many kids I had or hadn’t already had losing a child or a baby is tragic, painful, and sad.
A few months passed and I was terrified to get pregnant again unsure if I really wanted another child after all. We took the two kids we had to Disney World and for the first time just relaxed as a family. I began to think we had it pretty perfect. We had a boy and a girl and could reasonably afford one big vacation a year as a family and I began adopting an “us four and no more” mentality. The “no more” part of that mentality didn’t stop at no more children it went on to no more people. I was content with the relationships and the people we had in our lives I was basically ready at 27 to retire from life and ministry and just settle into our little world. This of course is not a biblical principle or mindset in the least, but to go out of this bubble was to experience hurt and I just didn’t want to hurt any more.
God wasn’t going to leave me in that place though. Shortly after Christmas we discovered we were pregnant again. I walked around on eggshells not even sure what to pray for this child, this pregnancy. I was totally unsure why we had lost the last one and scared to death of losing another. I didn’t want to get attached. I didn’t want to plan. I didn’t want to hope. I tried not to let it affect our way of life at all keeping on with my break neck pace of activity with the other two kids.
My friend’s baby was coming due and I was happily planning her baby shower just praying I could meet her little boy and, my heart in his eyes would melt and I’d be okay again, I’d learn to find hope again for the baby I had in my own belly.
Our pastors wife and I sat quietly in her kitchen on Super Bowl Sunday making our final plans for the baby shower while the men held court in the other room. Her husband walked in with the phone to his ear all sorts of worry on his face. I stood to leave the room knowing that they are pastors and have many charges to worry over and that most of those worries aren’t my business, but then I heard the words “They can’t find a heartbeat?” and I stopped in my tracks. Fear and sorrow gripped my whole body as he mouthed to his wife who he was talking too. I walked out of the room shaking not hearing the wild cheering coming from the TV room or anything else until his wife came out and gave everyone the news. She said “The mother is asking that any who have faith enough would pray for a miracle and a resurrection.” I wanted to jump up right there and scream me, I’ll pray, but I didn’t. I silently grabbed my bible and began begging God not to take this baby too.
All through the night I prayed. The next morning I joined her at the hospital as she at 36 weeks delivered the baby. I prayed while she pushed, and in my head I saw him take a gasp of life giving air and scream out as he was delivered proving the doctors all wrong. He came out quickly with very little pushing and he didn’t cry, he never cried. I turned my face away from my friend not wanting her to see my pain and wear it in addition to hers and I watched the doctor untangle him from the cord and delicately rub the blood that was oozing from his nose.
He was dead and wasn’t going to come back to life no matter what I prayed. His little body had already started to wither away. I stayed we prayed and we cried.
On the ride home I was overcome with anger not hope. I silently sat with my hands folded in my lap but on the inside I was screaming at God “How could you? Why would you? Why didn’t you?”. I finally settled down and cried and listened to what that still small voice had to say, because if I’m honest at first I didn’t want to listen I didn’t care what He said I was just so angry. What I heard was of little comfort and brought me into even more of a wreck, I heard him say “You weren’t expecting a miracle you were expecting magic, a little bibbiddy bobbiddy bo and some sparkle too. You wanted him to magically come back to life not miraculously. I deal in miracles not magic.”
It was true though. As I prayed with my hand on her belly I just wanted to wave my hand and make him be alive again. I know this lesson is a hard one for everyone to understand but it makes sense to me, though its not sounding great on paper. Yes I prayed and yes I hoped he’d come back to life, but I in my heart and head it was going to happen more by the waving of a hand or praying some great special prayer and that is more magic and religion than miracles. The thing with miracles is that we don’t actually do anything God does it all, so what we do with our hands or what we pray isn’t as important as letting the Holy Spirit move into a circumstance or situation and truly, miraculously change it.
Judah - A lesson of praise
Psalms 139:16-18 NLT
"You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!"
Two weeks after this I was still a wreck. I had my first OB appointment and “so far everything looked good”, but that was of no comfort to me any more. My friend had lost her baby after the “all clear” point. There was nothing that could make me feel safe or sure of this pregnancy.
I finally broke down in tears at a stop light while driving alone. I prayed a prayer that I knew before I spoke it I’d be ashamed of, but I also knew it was what was in my heart and not saying it didn’t make the thought go away. I cried out “Take this baby from me now if you are going to take him at all. I’d rather lose him now than later, please don’t make me go forward any longer if you are going to take him from me. I can’t bare it. I can’t get more attached to him.”
That still small voice that normally answers me was a little less small in response to this prayer. “You fool I could take either of the other two this very day and would you have trade the past few years of joy and love you’ve shared with them knowing that this day would come?”
I sobbed out the answer, no I wouldn’t trade the years as short as they are. I felt God probe me for the answer to why that was. Why did I view having only 2 years with my son as any different than having 8 weeks with a baby in my belly. The conclusion I came to was that it was easier to let the unborn baby go because I hadn’t looked into his eyes yet and experienced that joy that makes it all worth it. For my son and my daughter that I already had they cause me pain on a daily basis, but I look in to their little eyes and its all worth it at the end of the day, all the time outs all the crying all the tantrums and sacrifice. I realized that though I hadn’t yet seen into this baby’s eyes God already had, long ago when He first conceived to create the world, He had already looked into this baby’s eyes and known him. I decided as hard as it would be I’d try to take joy in every minute I had with the baby in my belly, to marvel at his movement and smile at my own physical discomfort because it was all time I got to spend with the wonderful, miraculous gift inside of me. And in a very real way I connected with this baby long before I ever looked into his eyes and knew him that way. Just as Rachel did with her fourth child I knew that this time I would praise the Lord when this baby arrived. Rachel named that child Judah, or Praise.
Peniel - A lesson in letting go
Hosea 13:13, 14 NLT
"Pain has come to the people like the pain of childbirth, but they are like a child who resists being born. The moment of birth has arrived, but they stay in the womb! “Should I ransom them from the grave ? Should I redeem them from death?"
Oh it doesn’t end there, God had still more to teach me through all of this. At 28 weeks I went into preterm labor. I spent 2 days at the hospital while they endeavored to stop the labor and keep the baby inside of me as long as possible. They succeeded in keeping him in there, but not in stopping the labor. My “healthy young” body had decided it was done. I spent the next 11 weeks on bedrest while they monitored me and the baby who had to live with being contracted on every few minutes as my body was stuck in an early labor mode. For 11 long weeks I couldn’t get out of bed except to use the bathroom. I couldn’t care for my other kids, I couldn’t serve my family through cooking and cleaning, I couldn’t be busy. Those may have been the hardest 11 weeks on my life so far. I cried alot!
You see I grew up in a reasonable family. My parents had a nice house in a great neighborhood and I went to the best school in town. We took two very extravagant vacations a year. We were on paper a very happy well off family, but the reality is we were 4 people surviving alone together. For various reasons my mom checked out mentally from my life though she appeared to be physically always there. My sister too struggled hard and shut me out in her teen years as our parents separated and then divorced. I was desperately alone surrounded by my family. I tired to serve my mother thinking if I could learn to cook as good as my dad or get good grades, she’d come back to reality and love me again. She later married a very abusive man who was all about works. As long as I performed and did what he asked I managed to escape his wrath, though I often still suffered his spite.
I was a good kid. I didn’t drink, I didn’t party, I didn’t smoke, I got straight A’s, I had a job, I had extracurricular activities. I was a model daughter and student. I couldn’t gain love and acceptance at home so I excelled at everything I did so everyone else would swoon over me and my abilities. I became an achiever. Achievement wasn’t just something I did because I was grateful and blessed by the life God gave me, no achievement was who I was. It defined me.
With 11 weeks of laying in a bed my self identity was stripped down to nothing. Without acts who was I? Without service how was anyone supposed to know I cared about them? Without being busy how was I to teach my kids the value of hard work? Without volunteering and helping others how was I to teach my kids the Godly principles of loving your neighbor and taking care of the poor, widows, and orphans?
It wasn’t that I thought I could serve my way into heaven. I knew my efforts were filthy rags to God, but not to other people. I thought I could skip over the relationship part of ministry and just serve people straight into heaven. I hoped that just by being the recipient of my heartfelt service they would be saved. Unfortunately for me that’s not how it works. Let’s face it there are plenty of “good” people out there that don’t know God and don’t serve God but do charitable deeds. Unless you have a relationship, a loving connection no one will get the chance to see God in the things that you do.
One night I lay in the recliner in absolute agony and physical discomfort. I couldn’t sleep so naturally I sat there arguing with God. Demanding to know why He was doing this to me. Why I couldn’t get up and help people, why he would hinder me in such a way and not use me. My hip was dislocated from a failed attempt to rotate the baby in my belly who was now at 38 weeks happily in the breech position. I cried out in agony over my hip, in anger over having to do a c-section and just all together frustration. It was in that moment I realized I was wrestling with God. If my hip hadn’t hurt so badly I may never have put the Jacob story together, but I remembered that when he wrestled with God he clung so tightly that God had to dislocate his hip to get him to let go. That was what I was doing, clinging so tightly to my ability to serve and be active that God had to literally incapacitate me through bedrest and then later a c-section to get me to let go of my old identity as an achiever, and my belief that my skills and abilities would serve people up to heaven.
I also remembered that Jacob, after wrestling with God named the spot where he had wrestled with God. In that moment I thought to myself “My wrestle with God hasn’t taken place on the banks of a river but over this pregnancy and the baby in my belly.” I wanted to find out what Jacob named that spot and have that be the middle name of my child.
Turns out he named that spot Peniel, or the face of God, because there he had seen the face of God and lived to tell about it.
Judah Peniel Montoya literally means Praise the face of God through the hills and the valleys, but to me it is: “This time I will praise the Lord for I have seen His face through the hills and the valleys.”